The current COVID-19 crisis has had a major impact on prison law. All adjudications within the prison, which are usually heard before an independent judge, have been postponed.
Similarly all Oral Hearings were postponed as the crisis developed. Happily the Parole Board have taken urgent steps to change working practices so that oral hearings have now resumed and are taking place either by video or by telephone link. Trinity Advocates’ lawyers have already conducted a number of these without any problems.
With the prisoners in lockdown we are currently unable to visit our clients in person, but due to our good working relationships with the local prisons, we are able to arrange a telephone conference to ensure that we are able to speak to clients about their ongoing cases.
As ever we will continue to work hard to achieve the best possible outcome for our prison clients.
Defence solicitors have a protocol in place with the police that asks first if the police need to take an account from our client whilst they are under arrest. If an account is needed then the next question is currently (for most cases) will our detained clients make a prepared statement, even if it’s to say “I don’t want to say anything to police at this time”?
Then either the police will pose their questions for interview in writing for the lawyer and client to consider to respond to in the statement OR the police proceed without an interview or further statement OR they will make arrangements for an interview anyway.
As things stand, in almost all cases, defence lawyers are engaging with the whole process remotely, including with any interview. So we might take part either through a phone or using Skype. We continue to advocate our clients’ safety as well as protecting their liberty and defence in the investigation.
Both Magistrates and Crown courts are working on a reduced case load, taking selected cases when someone is on bail and hearing as many cases as they properly can when someone is on remand in a police station or in prison. There are no trials being heard in the South West, as far as we know at this time, but sentencing is being carried out from time to time. Defence advocates can appear in person if it is considered safe to do so, but generally all advocates are participating in court hearings over a videolink.
Videolinking improves safety of participants but when our fear of passing on COVID 19 has passed, it is essential we return to face to face advocacy again. Video linking is not efficient if it relies on participants waiting for their hearings to be called on, without much idea when that might be. Communication between lawyer and client, between lawyers for different parties and between lawyer and the tribunal is best when you can see and read each others’ responses, expressions and body language, which can only be done in person.
Trinity Advocates 01392 927111